2010 De Cwhi P01

What to do when your ‘give a damn’ is busted

Oct. 1, 2020
If the stress and idiocy of COVID-19 has made you want to throw your life out the window, you're not alone. Here are five things Dr. Natalie Whitaker has resolved to change about her life going forward.

I don’t know about yoU, but COVID-19 has led me to a full-on personal reevaluation. As a 42-year-old practice owner, I’m in the thick of the hustle of practice building, retirement planning, kid raising, and household maintaining. There’s that pesky shoulder pain that won’t go away. There’s the bottle of wine that I used to open on Fridays that is now opened on Wednesday. And there are those times when I just start a procedure and a hygienist says, “I’m ready for a check.” (Even though I love them dearly, I want to flip them off.) All of this led to Jo Dee Messina’s song “My give a damn’s busted” playing 24/7 in my head.1 It also led to compassion fatigue, dread, and general loathing of work and how my life was unfolding.

Living and working this way beat me down. Family trouble and wanting to cry or fly into a rage almost every day had me looking for any other career. Knowing something had to give, I poured myself into self-help books, programs, watched YouTube videos, hired my own coach, and essentially learned as much as I could so I wouldn’t have to endure this for 20 more years. Here are five gems that came out of that time of reevaluation.

Self-care is key

You’ve heard the announcement on airplanes that in the event of cabin depressurization, you should put your oxygen mask on first. You can’t help anyone if you are passed out from lack of oxygen. The same rule applies to life. Exhausted, perpetually irritated, sick, depressed, and anxious is no way to exist. It makes no sense working yourself to death to prove how wonderful, successful, and helpful you are to others. You cannot be the best version of yourself—the most productive, loving, kind, creative, problem-solving version—if your cup is empty. When you are rested and full, the energy you bring to the table is 10 times more productive and enjoyable than when you are coasting on fumes. Here are some specific ways to show yourself love.

  • Don’t treat your mouth like a garbage can—Garbage in = garbage out. Eat mindfully. Drink mindfully. You deserve to feel good, and that starts with proper nutrition. With the rise of this pandemic, we’ve discovered that no one can save us from it—not the government, not forced shutdowns, not social distancing, not increased PPE, not any of it. You as a human have an obligation to yourself to take back your power and make yourself as healthy as possible so that, in the event this or any other illness knocks on your door, you are as prepared as possible to combat it yourself.
  • Move more—Our careers are taxing to our bodies. Find a program, hire a personal trainer, or just take a walk. It doesn’t have to be marathon training. Ten minutes a day of something will keep your metabolism moving and your body and mind more limber. 
  • Drink more water—It seems most Americans experience a chronic low level of dehydration. Most daytime fatigue, headaches, and hangovers are because of dehydration. Thirst is disguised as hunger. Drinking more water to satiate that hunger signal can help you lose weight, too. 
  • Invest in yourself—Invest in education, sleep, and overall time for yourself. Give yourself time to reflect, meditate, do an art project, or take a cooking class. Instead of push, push, push...grind, grind, grind, take a moment. Explore what that means for you. Don’t feel guilty because it’s not “productive.”

You always have a choice

You are one choice away from a totally different life. At the age of 33, with two small kids and in the process of buying my practice, I had a major health crisis. My path could have been to stay on medication the rest of my life, quit my job, feel sorry for myself, and just give up. I could choose to be a victim, or I could choose to make this thing work for me. I chose the latter. I went back to school, got a master’s degree in nutrition, and learned everything I could about healing myself and living a purposeful life. Sure, it was scary, and I could have literally died, but without that challenge, I never would have learned the lesson. You can use your hardships to find a better way, or you can use them to live a frustrated, victimized life. Happiness is an inside job and the result of choices you always have. You can choose to let circumstances run all over you, or you can decide to take back your power and live the life you love. It’s that easy. Just decide and move in that direction.

Boundaries—get some

I never had boundaries. I derived my self-worth from helping people and being a people pleaser. That led to unbelievable resentment that showed up everywhere. Operating from this victim standpoint, I’d ask myself, “Why do they always call me? Can’t someone else volunteer?” Because of the fear of disappointing anyone, I would overcommit. “No” was not in my vocabulary. We train people how to treat us, and I was always an easy “yes.” Yes to anything and everything anyone needed and wanted. I would say all kinds of nice things to their faces and then resent the heck out of them behind their backs. It felt so two-faced. I couldn’t reconcile the part of me that wanted to help with the part that wanted to tell people to back off. 

By choosing not to communicate what would and wouldn’t work for me, I became the creator of my issues. Boundaries are hard to create and implement at first. You will get pushback. But people will adapt. You will be able to give them better care, give your family better attention, and you will feel better, not used, when you have defined boundaries. 

Don’t live an ‘if-then’ life

Living an “if-then” life is a surefire way to take a ride on the burnout train. If I can make a million a year, then I can have freedom from work. If I can get my kids to make good grades, then I’ll be a good parent. If I lose 20 lbs, then I can have my dream body. This is the way many of us talk to ourselves—call it the “if-then” story. 

The “then” part of the story rarely ends with “then she lived happily ever after.” It’s a constant hustle for more of what you think you want. You are constantly chasing the feelings you want to feel and think those feelings will come with the attainment of something. We can never seem to get enough of the things we never really needed in the first place. The attainment of the goal isn’t where the ultimate power comes from; it’s in the journey where the fulfillment lies. What you learn along the way is the treasure you take with you. By not being reliant on success coming from a certain outcome, you are open to so many more interpretations of success. 

You are enough

Growing up, I wanted everyone to like me. Whatever I thought I had to do to excel, I did it. All that people pleasing came down to a fundamental belief that I wasn’t enough. Do you ever feel not enough? Not smart enough, not thin enough, not extroverted enough, not as far along in your career as you should be, not (fill in the blank) enough? Here’s the truth. You are always enough. You came into this world perfect and enough. Things started going in a different direction when you thought you had to be a certain way in order to be what those around you wanted. I created an identity for myself based on what others associated with me, and it was causing me to run myself into the ground, physically and mentally. 

Take an honest look at your life. You are an amazing person just the way you are. Quit trying to live out impossible expectations. Don’t let your joy be squashed because you don’t think you are enough. Realize it is a journey and appreciate where you are in your journey. You are the linchpin, the cornerstone, the centerpiece of your own life. When you work on yourself—your personal growth, becoming your best version—everything in your life gets better: your business, your relationships, and your ability to do hard things, be courageous, and shine your light. You are the only one who has your light; it would be a shame to deny the world that light because you are afraid to shine it...afraid of failure...afraid of not doing, being, or having enough. Don’t hide behind a busy workaholic nature. Do the work on yourself. The fears don’t melt away, but instead of being cages and roadblocks, they become springboards to propel you forward.


  1. My Give A Damn’s Busted. Curb Records. Delicious Surprise. Studio album by Jo Dee Messina. Track 6. 2005. 
Natalie Whitaker, DDS, MS, graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill School of Dentistry and is in private practice in Morganton, North Carolina. Having successfully navigated burnout, she knows what you are going through. If you’d like to explore more of how she can serve you to live your best life, you can reach her at [email protected].

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